Columns appear in print in the U Entertainment Section of the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News

Monday, March 20, 2006

Radio Column March 17, 2006

Listening In

March 17, 2006

By Sandy Wells

K-Earth 101’s new PD mining for new gold in old veins

New ‘old’ songs are finding their way on to K-Earth 101 (KRTH-FM 101.1) these days. Jhani Kaye, the recently appointed program director of the CBS oldies outlet, is currently taking some small, short term risks in hopes of a big dividend in the long run.

“We’ve expanded the playlist,” said Kaye. “We examined our song scores. All songs on our station are run through panels of listeners who prefer oldies. They get to rate the songs in a research environment.”

As a result, says, Kaye, new additions have been popping up on the K-Earth 101 “Soundtrack of Southern California,” such Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain,” Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” and “Call Me” by Chris Montez.

The risk of adding songs that the previous programming shunned as too obscure or “low scoring” on the research is offset by the benefit of keeping oldies fans tuned in for longer periods of time, a benefit that is valued by advertisers. And what I always hear is how frustrated oldies fans have been with the excessive repetition of staples such as “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers and “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” by the Four Tops.

“Generally, expanding the playlist takes the ratings down,” explained Kaye. “But that happens with more with contemporary music stations. With oldies, you have a limited universe. The oldies format is its own entity and you have to have an expanded playlist so you don’t burn out your core library.”

Kaye has taken some of the top scoring songs and stopped playing them so often to keep the station from sounding like it’s always playing ‘the same old song.’

“When you play the lower-scoring songs is when people say, ‘Oh yeah! Ooh!’ It screams variety when you catch listeners from left side, when you play songs they believe they haven’t heard for a long time.”

Kaye is also adding the long “album” versions of favorites, such as the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Kaye hopes to grow the oldies brand name that K-Earth 101 has established. For starters, that means not tampering too much with the talent lineup.

“I like to listen to the lineup for a long time, get to know them before making any adjustments,” says the veteran programmer who guided soft rock adult contemporary KOST-FM 103.5 for more than two decades. Joshua Escandon – midday personality on KBIG-FM 104.3 until a year ago – is the only new hire so far.

The current personalities, which include Hollywood Hamilton and the K-Earth 101 Morning Crew, Jim Carson, Gary Bryan, “Shotgun Tom” Kelly and Christina Kelley have all been very supportive, says Kaye.

“They are a great team. They all want to win in the worst way.”

Kaye joined the K-Earth 101 team in January after winding up a stint as Clear Channel’s Director of AC Programming for LA, where he supervised both KBIG-FM and KOST-FM. He says he was enticed to fill the programming position vacated by Jay Coffey by the history of the station and its association with the legendary “Boss Radio” KHJ.

“In my radio career, I’d been a disc-jockey in Los Angeles. The one station I always wanted to be on in LA was KHJ. KHJ is gone but the great inheritor of the Bill Drake sound was K-Earth 101. I love the songs. Bill Drake is a great resource for us. I get to speak to him on the phone – talk about programming issues – he’s such a gentleman. It was a great time for me to have a new experience in LA radio and work for a property I respect and love.”

The sound of K-Earth is changing but also sounding more like its antecedent, the top 40 version of KHJ. In addition to finding some neglected oldies and adding more 70s hits, he has dusted off some of the old jingles and vocal imaging recorded by Bill Drake back in the 60s and 70s. That lends an air of authenticity to the station. Kaye is also tweaking the sound processing to make the music more “natural sounding” and, he hopes, entice people to stay tuned for longer periods of time.

Kitty Felde takes on reporting duties

Public radio KPCC-FM 89.3’s Kitty Felde wrapped up a five-year run as full-time host (plus four years as the Friday host of the same) of “Talk of the City” a couple of weeks ago.

“They took my radio show away from me for no reason that I can discern,” the still somewhat shell-shocked award-winning reporter told me this week. “I have no idea what happened. I was blindsided by it. There was no reason given other than they wanted to shake things up.”

Well, part of the shake up means Felde will soon be working out of KPCC’s downtown LA offices as a reporter. But the station, despite its tepid commitment to local long-form programming, has shown an admirable determination to cover Southern California news with a large and ambitious news organization.

Felde, who covered the O.J. trial for KCRW-FM 89.9 and has been in public radio for twenty year, is confident she’ll regain her footing.

“I have a way of talking to people, of making complicated issues sound interesting and showing how policy issues affect real people.”

Now that’s an attribute any news department worth its salt should be souring the four corners of the earth to find.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Radio Column March 3, 2006

Listening In

March 3, 2006

By Sandy Wells

Radio’s answer to satellite: HD Radio

HD radio is terrestrial radio’s answer to satellite radio. Its digital signal offers better quality sound, promising AM stations that sound like FM and FM with “CD quality.” Now the race is on to get consumers to adopt the new technology by purchasing HD radio receivers.

Last month, Boston Acoustics, a leading manufacturer of HD tabletop radios, announced it had lowered its suggested retail price from $499 to $299.

“We’re very excited about the level of interest our Recepter Radio HD has had from both consumers and the media,” said Phil Cohn, Boston Acoustics Vice President of Sales. “We were the first to offer a table radio featuring digital HD Radio technology and are the first to be able to make this technology accessible to a broader audience of radio listeners. We continue to work closely with the broadcasting industry which is quickly launching more and more HD Radio stations and HD2 channels across the country.”

Other manufacturers producing HD radios are Radiosophy, polkaudio, Yamaha, Rotel and ADA.

Nationwide, more than 3,000 stations are in the process of upgrading to HD Radio broadcasting, with more than 700 on the air so far and several hundred also launching new multicast channels this spring.

Multicasting allows radio stations to offer several channels of content beyond the one signal per frequency spot on the dial what analog radios can deliver. For instance, KOST-FM 103.5 also offers “Lite Classics” in addition to its popular soft rock format.

“HD radio is the most exciting thing to come to radio since being able to stream on the internet,” said Mary Beth Garber, President of the Southern California Broadcasters Association. “Los Angeles already had several Clear Channel stations broadcasting in HD, and they are already programming sub channels. Emmis, Clear Channel, Infinity and ABC have committed to HD radio, as have others. One of the appealing sides to programming for HD is that the station can also stream the material and make podcasts out of it, so it can garner appeal that will drive the purchasing of HD radios. I have one; the sound is amazing.”

And Garber swears that this will not be another technological fizzle the way AM stereo was back in the 80s. Lots of AM stations took a stab at broadcasting in stereo, but the sound was never really good enough to stem the exodus of music programming to FM and the industry never fully rallied behind a single technical standard until the 90s. By then, it was too late to interest the public at large. In Los Angeles, only KABC-AM 790 continues to broadcast in AM stereo.

“It won't go the way of AM Stereo,” says Garber of the new technology. “We are talking new capabilities with HD, not just the tweaking of the sound. This gives the stations new ways to connect with their listeners, and gives their listeners reason to spend even more time within a given radio station's ‘family of content.’ The broadcasters are behind it. The listeners will be behind it as they come to know about it and are able to sample it.”

Current LA area stations broadcasting in HD are: KBIG-FM 104.3, KCRW-FM 89.9, KCSN-FM 88.5, KDIS-AM 1110, KHHT-FM 92.3, KIIS-FM 102.7, KKBT-FM 100.3, KKJZ-FM 88.1, KLVE-FM 107.5, KLYY-FM 97.5, KMXE-AM 830, KMZT-FM 105.1, KNX-AM 1070, KOST-FM 103.5, KPCC-FM 89.3, KPWR-FM 105.9, KROQ-FM 106.7, KTNQ-AM 1020, KUSC-FM 91.5, KWIZ-FM 96.7, KWVE-FM 107.9 and KYSR-FM 98.7.

So far, only BMW offers factory-installed HD car radios, but JVC, SANYO and Kenwood sell installable car radios.

Conservative host joins KABC

Conservative commentator Mark Levin joined the KABC-AM 790 lineup this week with a one-hour rebroadcast of his New York-based program starting at 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. Levin, a popular talk show host for WABC, has often filled-in for Sean Hannity’s nationally-broadcast midday program also heard on KABC. Levin’s show is syndicated by ABC Radio Networks and airs live in New York from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time.

Levin’s conservative credentials are impeccable. He served as a top adviser to several Cabinet members during President Ronald Reagan’s administration and currently practices law in the private sector as head of the Landmark Legal Foundation in Washington, D.C. He is also a contributing editor for National Review Online.

“Mark’s show is smart, entertaining and informative,” said KABC Program Director, Erik Braverman. “He takes on the tough issues and the tough guests in a passionate and intelligent way that I think our audience will really enjoy.”

The “Ask Mr. KABC Show” starts an hour later and now airs from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., followed by “Red Eye Radio” with Kevin James.